virtual reading preview

Flyer for this Saturday’s National Poetry Month virtual reading.

Just a quick post to share some of the work from the poets who will be reading at this Saturday’s event. Here are the details for the event including the link to register:

Event: A Virtual Celebration of National Poetry Month with Readings by Julia Koets, Meg Day, and Jenny Johnson
Date & Time: Saturday, April 24th, 6-7pm EST
Registration Link: https://suffolk.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAodO-sqD4uH9y_aL0QrfL_Rq9ELsQ9oonQ
Note about accessibility: ASL interpretation will be provided by Emily Phipps

I do hope you consider joining us. As a sort of sneak peek, here are poems from each of the featured readers. Looking forward to seeing y’all there!


Julia Koets

A Villanelle for Jodie Foster

In Contact, you wait for sound. Radio
            static in deep space keeps you awake
long into the night. How small this globe,

Ellie Arroway thinks. Miniscule, close
            to insignificant.  It’ll likely take
lifetimes to hear the farthest star, radio

frequencies scientists debate. History’s slow,
            the way some satellites in space
appear to stand still, orbiting the globe.

Small moves, small moves, your father’s canto.
            They should’ve sent a poet, you say,
witness to another galaxy. Without radio

proof, no one believes what you saw. No
            future, they say, is quite so opaque.
When you come out at the Golden Globes,

your silver dress glittering, all the stars aglow
            in the audience, you speak about privacy,
but also wish, in your own brave voice, a radio
            wave, to be not so very lonely on this globe.


Meg Day

Once All the Hounds Had Been Called Home

When the grapevine had thinned
but not broken & the worst was yet to come
of winter snow, I tracked my treed heart
to the high boughs of a quaking
aspen & shot it down.
                                    If love comes fast,
let her be a bullet & not a barking dog;
let my heart say, as that trigger’s pulled,
Are all wonders small?  Otherwise, let love
be a woman of gunpowder
                                         & lead; let her
arrive a brass angel, a dark powdered comet
whose mercy is dense as the fishing sinker
that pulleys the moon, even when it is heavy
with milk. I shot my heart
                                         & turned myself in
to wild kindness, left the road to my coffin
that seemed also to include my carrying it & walked
back along the trampled brush I remembered
only as a blur of hot breath & a howling in my chest.


Jenny Johnson

Late Bloom       

The name of the spotted apple
on the leafy floor in the woods

outside the white-walled bedroom
where the FM stereo was always

tuned to the same country
station my girl crush loved

was gall, name for an outgrowth,
a shell withering under leaf rot

near a spot where the surprise lilies
might remember, might

forget to bloom. Touch a weevil
and it will fall, legs and antennae tucked.

Blink and the artic fox becomes snow.
The gecko, toes spread wide

on a tree trunk, passes for lichen.
Of all the ways a creature can conceal itself,

I must have relied on denial.
There were the Confederate bumper stickers,

pressures from seniors to tailgate,
the spindly legs of a freshman

scissoring out of a trash can,
how just the smell of Old Spice

could make my muscles contract
like a moth, wings folded

the color of a dead leaf in October.
So that she might hear her favorite song

my voice would drop, and if the DJ answered
I would be Tim, Charlie, Luke, Jason

every name but my own.
Truer than gold.

Wasn’t I the stripe in a tiger’s eye?
The dapple in the flanks of an Appaloosa?

In daylight, how could I possibly explain:
A heart hunting after a body?

writer feature: Quintin Collins

This week I am proud to feature the work of Quintin Collins whose debut collection The Dandelion Speaks of Survival arrives this month from Cherry Castle Publishing. I have been admirer of Collins’ work both on and off the page for a few years now. As an activist and organizer, Collins has helped foster a dynamic community as assistant director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

On the page, Collins’ work is marked by a direct engagement with the physical world, lingering over it with a curious attention that pays off in nuanced and fateful meaning. In his poem, “Exegesis On a Chicken Wing,” the act of eating is given space so that it is honored but also meditated on in a way that gives over its essential stakes. That to be human is survival and celebration–this is a key message in Collins’ work.

In “This is Where You Belong” (below) one encounters a similar engagement with the physical world. Through a catalogue of a neighborhood, the poem ruminates over the coming and going of many lives with such clarity that nothing feels ephemeral despite its fleeting nature. Like Galway Kinnell, Collins writes of place with a gravity that is accessible and essential. One feels the weight of “The American flag, / two hundred fifty pounds of polyester” flapping over the life the speaker is witness to, but also feels the horizon it flaps against, made up of human life and sky.

About this poem, Collins states:

Book cover for The Dandelion Speaks of Survival.

“This is Where You Belong” introduces the landscape of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival. The collection exists because of the setting, which is a Chicago suburb that derives much of its culture from the city. I like to describe it as a watered-down diet Coke version of Chicago. Following white flight and the destruction of certain projects in the city, we had a lot of transplants from the city throughout my childhood. Plus, even those of us from the area originally had a lot family with deep roots in the city. So I wanted to capture the intersection of suburb and city, as well as the shifting demographics, mundane sights, childhood joys, and a bit of the ethos of the late 90s/early 2000s.

Quintin Collins

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This is Where You Belong

Where the Sears Tower casts a shadow across the land,
this is twenty-five miles southwest of Chicago. A wheat field cleared
for a billboard that announces an outlet mall that never broke ground.

& this is the Zenon J. Sykuta Elementary School
playground where kids broke skin against mulch. Splinters swam
in blood, boys kissed girls, lips wetted with dares.

& this is Atkin Park, where a sock-swaddled padlock swung
an eviction notice to an eye. Blood speckled hopscotch squares.

& this is Chris’ backyard, where concrete chipped
knuckles, where boys chased a jump ball, shared sweat,
put up shots for games of twenty-one, wobbled defenders.

& this is the creek ditch where victims emptied
pockets of a few bills, Pokémon cards, & Frooties. Big Moe peddled
away on someone’s Mongoose. He always said he was coming back.

& this is Kostner Avenue where kids flew
downhill on the same bike, arms extended, wind coasted over palms.

& this is another U-Haul truck going. & this is another U-Haul
truck coming. & this is another U-Haul truck
with a belly full of furniture, engine idled for arrival or departure.

& this is a For Sale sign. & this is a For Rent sign. & this is a For Rent Sign.

& this is the streetlight on 180th, outside St. Emeric,
where Keith’s mom whooped him in front of all of his friends
because sunset then stars beat him to his doorstep.

& this is a Cutlass Supreme with 24-inch rims
that rippled bass down Ravisloe Terrace, up Idlewild Drive.

& this is Country Pantry. That’s the AMC Loews. That’s the Walmart
where teens posted up in the parking lot, loitered
around their mother’s sedans, revved their hips to summer hits.

This is Country Club Hills, where I-57 & I-80 lace
like fingers interlocked over the city. The American flag,
two hundred fifty pounds of polyester, flaps over the land.

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Copies of The Dandelion Speaks of Survival can be purchased from Cherry Castle Publishing.

Also, check out this event where Collins will read from this collection later this month along with poets Meg Kearney and Chloe Martinez.

Photo of poet Quintin Collins. Photo credit: Jasen Sousa.

Quintin Collins (he/him) is a writer, editor, and Solstice MFA Program assistant director. His work appears in many print and online publications, and his first full-length collection of poems is The Dandelion Speaks of Survival (Cherry Castle Publishing, 2021). His second collection of poems, Claim Tickets for Stolen People, selected by Marcus Jackson as winner of The Journal‘s 2020 Charles B. Wheeler Prize, is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press/Mad Creek Books in 2022. See more of his work on qcollinswriter.com.

poetry feature: Lisa Summe

Book cover for Say It Hurts
by Lisa Summe.

This week I’m excited to share two poems from Lisa Summe’s upcoming collection, Say It Hurts (YesYes Books). This collection is due out on January 15th and is currently available for pre-order.

Here’s a brief description of the forthcoming collection:

Say It Hurts grapples with queerness, love, grief, masculinity, coming of age, and coming out in the context of cultural violence rooted in misogyny and familial violence rooted in catholicism. In these poems joy and loss hold hands—at sleepovers and haircuts, at symphonies and haunted mazes, among fathers, on dating apps, during car sex, in matching tattoos, on Pinterest boards, at funerals. Lisa Summe’s debut collection queers the love poem by demanding that the whole story be told—what it means to love, to grieve, and to heal by saying it out loud.

About Say It Hurts

One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work.

“Always a Man” (below) is an example of direct intensity. The lyric voice charges forth, interrogating the pervasive effects of toxic masculinity in women’s public and private lives. One effect is evoked through the speaker’s stating “I am not the kind of woman,” then using this “not” as a counterpoint to heteronormative examples of “kinds” of women. This reckoning is then forged by the verbal sexual assault women face. Through an example of a hypothetical couple hearing about “sexual assault on the news,” the poem gets to the question: “how many times in a year / do you think you get catcalled.” When this question garners a response “incalculable / like the number of times in a year I stub my toe,” we are as readers hit by a harsh reality. This harsh reality becomes all the more harsh as it occurs within the speaker’s own experience, that the poem has moved from hypothetical example to her referencing “my coworker or sister or best friend.” The poem continues listing various instances of women being catcalled, illuminating the opening line’s counterpoint through indirection. What develops in the first half of the poem is the harsh reality of straight and straight-presenting women in heteronormative society. The poem takes a turn with the line “but there is always a man” which takes us back to the title, its implied binary, and the interrogation via the poem of said binary. The speaker goes from detailing the effects of catcalls to sharing her experience of outright threats of violence. The poem ends on a note that makes clear how insidious misogonynistic subjugation is in women’s lives, queer or straight.

In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.

Enjoy the poems below. Also, White Whale Bookstore will be hosting a virtual reading & launch for Say It Hurts on January 23 featuring Summe as well as Sara Watson, Jari Bradley, Micaela Corn, and Diannely Antigua. Check out this link for info on registration and more about the event.


Always a Man*

I am not the kind of woman
whose boyfriend asks
in the midst of all of the sexual assault on the news
how many times in a year
do you think you get catcalled
I do not have a boyfriend first of all
but even if I did my answer would not be
that of my coworker or sister or best friend
incalculable
like the number of times in a year I stub my toe
I am not the kind of woman who looks like a woman
not the kind of woman a man whistles at near the gas station
or calls honey at the bank
or tells to smile because I’ve got a pretty smile
at the farmer’s market
the Jiffy Lube
the coffee shop
the bar down the street
my own porch
because the upstairs neighbor
the mailman
I am not the kind of woman my exes are
women who got hit on right in front me
while I held their hands at the gym or at the movies
or at the fucking Olive Garden
I am not the kind of woman
who has to use her energy to politely decline these advances
or gets called bitch
or gets a bloody lip
or gets it anyway
but there is always a man
while I walk home from work
in a button down & bow tie in broad daylight
there is always a man on the corner by the CVS
a man wearing a hardhat on the corner of Bayard St.
there is always a man
who wants to put me in my place
I see what you really are under there he says
you’re a girl

*previously published in Bone Bouquet


Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding

I swear that’s your actual finger: so
you want an oval engagement ring: my grief
circling around: coming back as a bird:
as a wing: fragile as the inner ear:
my alabaster heart: you: lace
everything: sleeves of your dress: lingerie: twitch
of my thigh: now you will marry a man: I don’t know
his name: twitch in my eye: when we were
together: we made words:  let’s get married: our idea
of save the dates: Scrabble tiles: getting
married: back of your dress wide open: your finch
tattoo bursting through: my grief flying out
the window of you: what you like
about the finch: it always returns home


Say It Hurts is available for pre-order from YesYes Books: https://www.yesyesbooks.com/product-page/say-it-hurts.


Author photo of Lisa Summe.

Lisa Summe is the author of Say It Hurts (YesYes Books, 2021). She earned a BA and MA in literature at the University of Cincinnati, and an MFA in poetry from Virginia Tech. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bat City Review, Cincinnati Review, Muzzle, Salt Hill, Waxwing, and elsewhere. You can find her running, playing baseball, or eating vegan pastries in Pittsburgh, PA, on Twitter and IG @lisasumme, and at lisasumme.com.

writer feature: Yahia Lababidi & Laura Kaminski

This week’s poem was drawn from the feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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Happy to be sharing a collaborative poem this week by two poet friends: Yahia Lababidi and Laura Kaminski. Collaborative poems create such singular reading experiences, the meeting of two sensibilities creating another sensibility performed through the poem. Because of the idiosyncratic nature of this creative undertaking, I asked Yahia and Laura to share some thoughts on their process, the results of which are featured below after the poem.

PITCHERI was excited when I first read the poem, intrigued by its pacing and lyric turns right away. What I most enjoy about this poem is how its meditation on sin and the body is approached in references and images that redefine both as they accumulate. The first stanza, for example, sets up a logic around guilt that is quickly subverted in the second. Then at the end of the second stanza there is a reference to Franz Kafka’s The Trial, “Guilt is never to be doubted.” This line on its own is one of those faux truisms that denies itself the moment after it’s read or uttered. The silence after the line break makes you immediately doubt this statement on doubt. These moves early in the poem have the effect of a bottle rocking unsteadily on its base and then settling into stillness via the Kafka line. This stillness is the perfect lead into the following stanza’s “Walk softly then” direction.

Similarly, the body is described in house terms and images, all of which create a different conversation about interiority and the self than usually encountered in poems. An image like the water pitcher one in stanza six, for example, is effective for what it evokes through the directive tone and leaves unsaid. By the poem’s end, gratitude for the “holy mess” of who we are works as a physical and active thing through the refrain of breathing.

Holy Mess
by Yahia Lababidi & Laura Kaminski

Overnight, your once blessed existence
might reverse course
become an alien thing
and you stand accused
of unspeakable crimes

Never mind, you are innocent
of these base horrors—
as Kafka says, in his Trial,
‘Guilt is never to be doubted’

Walk softly then, in sock-feet
across the floor that’s in your mind
until you reach the alcove
between the two open windows
that serve as sockets for your eyes

inhale through the nose
exhale through the nose

Be grateful, then
there are still dreadful sins
in our fallen world
of which you are blameless

Then move to the left window
lift the pitcher full of water
just beneath it to the sill
and pour it out

inhale through the nose
exhale through the mouth

Cross over to the other window
and look out, cross your arms over
your chest and clasp your shoulders

Now, tell me, how will this crucible
change you? Then show how this
unasked-for crisis is
blessing, allow it to assist
the birth of your longed-for self

inhale through the mouth
exhale through the nose

Slowly, return to descend
the spiral staircase of your spine
until you reach the landing
level with the Heart —

Thank God, for this Holy Mess —
Open the window, air it out

inhale through the mouth
exhale through the mouth

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Yahia: Poetry is an expression of the intolerable. Through it, one can confess in code and attempt to articulate what is unutterable.  Recently, undergoing a particularly difficult spiritual trial, I turned to poetry for solace, as a form of prayer, to overhear my higher self.

But, in this trying instance, I found that my voice and vision were not enough; I needed another poetic soul to unburden myself to, who could talk back to the intimacies that I shared and walk me through them.

So, I submitted the partial poem that I had composed to a poet and friend I admire, Laura Kaminski, and the result is this fuller work of (he)art — a steadying call and response and a kind of breathing meditation.

Laura: I carried the partial poem with me through the remainder of that day and into the night, and what came was this: when a part of our body is in pain, it screams out along the nerves, and it becomes difficult not to slip into that pain as an identity: *I am the torn ligaments in my foot* and such, where the injury and pain of it supersede any other perceptions of the body, become defining. When I hurt, pain hijacks my identity. I cannot see my self beyond the injury.

How much the same is true when what is injured is one of our inner selves, part of our psyche rather than physical body, but superseding identity in the same way: our “I am” is lost beneath the “I am the falsely accused.” How to return to the wider, more comprehensive perspective, to gently invite the injured voice inside to subside, to return to being part of a larger, uninjured whole? Then came the words of walking across the floor within the mind, and it struck me how once those words are thought, the imaginative-identity, like Alice, resizes its self to fit, and opens us to wonderland again.

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Yahia Lababidi, Egyptian-American, is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, most recently the collection of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere.

Laura M Kaminski (Halima Ayuba) is the author of several poetry collections and chapbooks. She serves on the editorial teams at Praxis Magazine Online and Right Hand Pointing. For more information on her work, check out her site.

writer feature: Olivia Dresher

Jumping back into things with the work of Olivia Dresher whose latest collection of fragments and aphorisms, A Silence of Wordscame out recently from Impassio Press.

I actually had the opportunity to get an early read of A Silence of Words and got to share my thoughts via the following blurb:

dresher“In A Silence of Words, Olivia Dresher continues to explore her fascination and deft facility with fragments and aphorisms. Taken from their first public home of Twitter, Dresher’s fragments find their way into a reader’s inner consciousness with the intimacy of poetry and the depth of philosophy, offering “Awe, not answers.” If, as she tells us elsewhere, “The mind likes being alone, the heart doesn’t,” this collection delivers at turns solitude and companionship. In the same way that the mind and heart live within one body, so do the nuance and complexity of these short works live within one’s reading experience, each one a gift of presence and existence.”

To get a sense of what I mean in these words, I have included two small excerpts below.

What I would add to readers new to Dresher’s work is how dually instructive and illuminating these aphorisms and fragments are. Able to carry a range of emotion, from perceptively distant to openly vulnerable, Dresher’s work evokes a person speaking to one’s self in a way that is also speaking to you, the reader. Together in this unique space, human realities are experienced in real time.

I first experienced the unique sensibility of Dresher’s work when I discovered the anthology she edited, In Pieces: An Anthology of Fragmentary Writing (Impassio Press). In this anthology, Dresher outlines a clear idea of the varied scope of fragmentary writing through representative works and authors. I continue to admire her work for how it has shaped me both on the page and in life.

excerpts from A Silence of Words by Olivia Dresher

533
Insects are arrogant

534
Tears go deeper than a smile.
Imagine if a photographer told you to “Cry!” instead of “Smile” before taking your photograph.

535
Tears are perfect

536
Tidal wave moments…

537
Everything to feel,
nothing to be done.

538
If I could love unhappiness,
I’d always be happy.

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587
Her mind, a kite her heart liked to fly.

588
What are you reading,
the young man on the bus asked me.
Aphorisms, I said.
What do you do for fun, he asked.
Write aphorisms, I said.

589
Longing to feel his longing…

590
As an infant, what did I love?
I loved music and the sky, even then.

591
Stop spilling your silence all over me,
she said silently.

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Copies of  A Silence of Words can be purchased here.

To keep up with Olivia Dresher’s work, follow her on Twitter: @OliviaDresher

poetry feature: Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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This week I’m excited to share two poems by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal. The first “Escribeme / Write Me” (below) is presented in both Spanish then English. Work presented bilingually always interests me as I take note of the word choice across translations.

Here, the word “coloreame” stood out first in Spanish as it is a variation of the verb “colorear.” In the Spanish alone, there is an emphasized intimacy in moving between “colorear” and “coloreame.” The difference in sense between the words translates essentially as “colorear / to color” versus “coloreame / color me.” The directness of this change is in keeping with the theme of the poem as it is a speaker asking to be written.

Gabriel Amu Amu waves
waves – Gabriel-Amu Amu

This move in Spanish from the distant vibe of “to color” to the more direct “color me” is evoked in English by Berriozábal’s choice of rendering “Coloreame” as “Animate me.” Reading across languages, I feel both a surprise and familiarity in seeing this translation. Surprise, because of the variation in word choice; familiarity because of how apt the word choice is in carrying over the poetic sensibility of the Spanish version. “Animate” carries with it its own intimacy, similar to the move from “colorear” to “coloreame,” as it is a word that evokes a specific urgency, one that is life or death. The speaker, in fact, feels as if they’re dying; to be (re)animated is the desire.

In “Book Without Feelings” (also below), this meditation on life and death continues from another angle. Here, the reader is presented with the scenario of a book able to read a human person. This relationship of the inanimate book reading the animated human self is intriguing in how it subverts our sense of meaning-making. Rather than reading a book for meaning, a book reads the speaker and undergoes a meditation of something beyond animation. The narrative that develops around the “story” of the speaker’s death, in a way, enacts the meaning-making act and finds that meaning is in short supply within a mortal context.

The casual quirkiness of this scenario allows us as readers to be surprised by how the speaker’s meditation hits in a severe way at the end. While the logic of a book not having feelings makes immediate sense, the comparison of this unfeeling state against that of a corpse drives home what is lost in death. That the book is left behind able to be used for meaning-making, but only by an animated self whose ability to make meaning is temporarily and mortally limited — this is where this poem took me. The surprising nature of this ruminative reading experience is a gift, one in keeping with the heart of lyric poetry.

Escribeme – Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

Escribeme
Yo también quiero ser poema
Deletreame
Con la tinta de una estrella
Coloreame
Con tu fino pincel
Encantame
Porque me muero de tristeza

Write Me

Write me
I, too, want to be a poem
Spell me out
With the ink of a star
Animate me
With small brush strokes
Bring me joy
Because I’m dying of sadness

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Book Without Feelings – Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

The book reads me.
It reads me as if I’m dead.
I’m the hero
who has run out of breath.
It is a load
of baloney. The book
reads about the dead man.

The battle was lost
and a corpse was created.

This was no poetry book.
It was not an autobiography.
The heart gave out.
The book read about
the insects at my grave
soaking in the sun above
and the gaseous fumes below.

The book closed the book.
It did not feel sadness.
It was just a book,
a book without feelings.
At least it was not a corpse.

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IMG_0794 (2)*

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, born in Mexico, lives in Southern California, and works in the mental health field in Los Angeles. His first book of poems, Raw Materials, was published by Pygmy Forest Press. His other poetry books, broadsides, and chapbooks, have been published by Alternating Current Press, Deadbeat Press, Kendra Steiner Editions, New American Imagist, New Polish Beat, Poet’s Democracy, and Ten Pages Press (e-book).

To read more of Luis’ work, go here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

poetry feature: Chelsea Bunn

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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This week I’m excited to share a poem by Chelsea Bunn. I’m always a fan of poems that are able to evoke through juxtaposition. In “Missed Connections” (below), what is being juxtaposed is the speaker’s present surroundings with the memories that the surroundings evoke. This evocation is set up first through the clear naming of things: “the downtown 6,” “5 o’clock,” “an accordion,” etc. This clear naming grounds the poem in the speaker’s experience. The poem builds momentum through its descriptions which keep the reader “looking” at things alongside the speaker while an emotional undercurrent begins to build.

The poem takes a turn at the fifth couplet with the direct introduction of the idea of time past. This turn is furthered through the line “Private in my infuriating grief — ” which pivots the poem into the speaker’s inner memory world. What happens next is another clear naming of things, similar to the opening, but one that parallels the real world with memory. The echoes and differences here deliver emotional presence through juxtaposition. The “accordion” from the second stanza, for example, is mirrored in the “ventilator” mentioned in memory.  What was handled through distance in the present is suddenly re-presented in a way that is intimate and personal.

train platformWhile this richness alone is a gift of the poem, it’s the ending that drives home the connection to human experience. This speaker caught in meditation between the present and the past is, at the end, found at a loss. All the clear naming and juxtaposition becomes all the more insistent and urgent with the final line “The things I couldn’t say.” This final line is another act of naming that points to what can’t be named, what has eluded the vision and scope of this speaker. Evoked in this manner, the two narratives of the poem show how poetry can be a place where “missed connections” can be acknowledged, honored, and felt for what they mean.

Missed Connections – Chelsea Bunn

Waiting for the downtown 6 at 5 o’clock,
my other life comes rushing back in waves.

A man straps an accordion to his chest, opens
and closes its bellows, delivering long columns

of sound into the stagnant August air.
Across the platform, pairs of schoolchildren

march in procession, arms linked as if when someone
knows who you are, you won’t get left behind.

You: two years absent, phantom that I drag around.
Me: one year sober, still locked inside myself.

Still sequestered, still on edge.
Private in my infuriating grief—

waking daily from the dream of my father in his hospital bed,
ventilator squeezing and sucking at his chest even after he is gone,

after the blonde nurse has wrapped her clean arms around me,
after the long, low moan of the monitor.

The early morning light blasting through the windows.
The things I couldn’t say.

(originally published by Maudlin House, February 2018)

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chelsea-bunn*

Chelsea Bunn is the author of Forgiveness (Finishing Line Press, 2019). She holds an MFA in Poetry and a BA in English from Hunter College. A two-time recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, she serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing for Navajo Technical University. Find out more at chelseabunn.com

 

poetry feature: Clara Burghelea

This week’s poems are drawn from the poetry feature submissions! For guidelines on how to submit work, see the “submissions” tab above.

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This week I’m excited to share two poems by Clara Burghelea. I was taken right away by Burghelea’s work and how it develops lyric momentum through complex imagery. In “Nostalgia,” for example, the idea of being “sick” for a body “before it was a body” immediately kicks off from the title into a meditation how bodies develop both a physical and emotional history. The body that once was, as described in the first stanza, “a prettiness slender / like a smack of wind,” is later in the second stanza the body that has known “heart as a dark vessel” and has grown “thick with other people’s thoughts.” The logic of these lines is visceral; youth is evoked as the body being more feeling than physicality, until, with time, the body grows darker and more weighted. This movement from fleeting to stillness by the second stanza returns us to the title. Nostalgia is often thought of as a light thing, an activity of kitsch and cliche. Here, however, Burghelea presents the concept of nostalgia in a way that shows how much longing and reason for longing lie behind it.

body sketch
“Sketches 8” by Diana Schulz

In “The Self as Introduction,” too, the body implies movement. The poem begins with the following image: “No wound loathes its scar, / yet craves the radiant absence.” Through this phrasing, the reader is invited to hold two conflicting ideas at once, that of loathing and craving, in a way that implies an erasure of self. Yet, because this loathing and craving is proposed as being enacted by a wound, the erasure seems less dire, merely conceptual. There is space enough here to see the implied message that radiance may involve pain. This implication builds momentum as the poem develops and it becomes clear that the speaker is speaking about what is at stake in human relationships. The line “What fell from your lips / came to nest into my mouth,” for example, presents an image whose logic builds tension. Even in the distance between bodies, there is a momentum at work, the momentum of interpretation and of thought within silence. The poem ends with a frustration of sense (similar to the longing of “Nostalgia”) in its final lines: “The gap on the page, / a muttering under a kiss.” What Burghelea gives us in these poems, ultimately, is a sensibility able to clearly evoke how much and how little of the body we’re able to hold onto.

Nostalgia – Clara Burghelea

I’m sick for my body
before it was a body,
bereft of aching and desires,
unaware of the shortcomings,
a prettiness slender
like a smack of wind,
a breathing silk of youth crowning it,
ready to deliver itself to the world,
without knowing it would be hard
to hold back its lush of innocence.

The body that hadn’t known
heart as a dark vessel,
no push of wind to sail its burden.
That body that had yet to grow
thick with other people’s thoughts,
its taps in disarray,
not a weight erased
but a weight made bearable.
This body I mourn the most.

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The Self as Introduction – Clara Burghelea

No wound loathes its scar,
yet craves the radiant absence.

God’s laughter punctures
the arch of the sky

every new dawn,
eyes bandaged with light.

What fell from your lips
came to nest into my mouth

the thieving of the heart,
an unpremeditated entry.

The gap on the page,
a muttering under a kiss.

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Clara Burghelea HeadshotClara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet. Recipient of the 2018 Robert Muroff Poetry Award, she got her MFA in Creative Writing from Adelphi University. Her poems, fiction and translations have been published in Full of Crow Press, Ambit Magazine, HeadStuff, Waxwing and elsewhere. Her collectionThe Flavor of The Other is scheduled for publication in 2019 with Dos Madres Press.

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fiction feature & interview: Maria Alejandra Barrios

For this fiction feature and interview, I am happy to present a story by Maria Alejandra Barrios. This story is followed by an interview with the author on the piece as well as on her work in general.

In “A Girl Cooks,” Barrios presents a narrative that interrogates traditional roles within families, specifically between daughters and fathers. The narrative develops around the act of cooking and braids memory with present circumstances, a move that creates tension within a personal, intimate framework. Another engine at work in the story is the role of naming. Each time a food is named, the narrator gives presence to memory and to herself.  It is this latter empowerment that is the thematic arc of the story. The reader follows the narrator’s inner realizations to its powerfully nuanced conclusion.

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A Girl Cooks
by Maria Alejandra Barrios

I knew that I wanted to cook something simple and not necessarily typical of Colombian cuisine for the occasion: maybe some pasta pomodoro or maybe some beef with asparagus. As soon as I heard my dad was being released from prison, I bought the first ticket to Colombia I found, and I rented an apartment so we could spend some time together. We communicated all these years through long distance calls. When I told him I had moved to the United States, he went silent for what seemed like a long time. And I ran out of credit, so the call ended. I feared I would spend all my money on silent calls, so we never spoke about it again.

The night before being released from prison, my dad told me that he didn’t want me to pick him up. He would take a taxi from prison to the apartment. I didn’t say anything because I knew it might be a thing of pride or an attempt to protect me. Instead, I thought about how in American movies people always change in prison, I wondered if he had changed much, he had never been the protective kind.

I thought about what to cook. When we still lived with my dad, my mom always cooked Colombian dishes like arroz con coco and patacones with some fried fish or a frijolada con tocino. He didn’t like anything at all: he said that everything was too salty or not salty enough, that the rice was sticky, or the patacones were greasy. My dad would even get mad at me when I finished all the food or had something good to say about el arroz con pollo.

So no Colombian food, I thought. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t have anyone to call on the phone like I used to call my mom when I was making buñuelos: “Mija, the important thing is that you find good cheese.” In bodegas, I found fresh Mexican cheese that was similar to Colombian cheese but never the same. The buñuelos would always taste like a modest version of home, and I would eat them while talking on the phone to her. I would lie and say that I found the right kind of cheese and that they tasted exactly like the ones at the pueblo. Through the phone, I could hear her smiling.

My dad said he would arrive at 2 pm. I served two plates of pasta pomodoro and some cheese on the side. I put a bottle of wine between the two plates and some red flowers in a vase. I took one last long look at the table before opening the door.

“Papi,” I said.

He hugged me. His hug was tight and desperate like he was thinking about hugging me the whole time he spent in the taxi.

We sat down at the table. “We should eat now while it’s still hot.” I was nervous, exactly how I would imagine my mom had been before every meal we shared with him. I wanted every bite to be perfect.

He started gulping the food. At some point, he placed the plate closer to his mouth so that he could eat faster. My dad finished his meal before me and poured himself a generous glass of wine. He didn’t offer me any, so I poured myself a more modest glass.

“I wish Marta was here,” My dad said after taking the first sip. The last time my dad saw my mom, ten years ago, he threatened to slap her. I took a sip of wine too, and I thought that maybe my dad had forgotten about everything that had happened before he went to jail. I wondered if I had forgotten too.

As I was looking from across the table at my dad, I thought about how my mom always used to make tamales for my dad on his birthday. Before making them, she would always look for all the coins in the house: she would look behind sofas and underneath pillows so that she could buy the biggest piece of meat she could afford at the tienda. After that, she would kill a chicken in the backyard. The smell of the herbs and the spices marinating the meats was so intense that Marina, the neighbor, always knew what she was cooking. Marina would beg for the recipe, but my mother would shake her head and say: “That’s a gift for mi hija. When I die, she’s the only one who’s getting the recipe.” When sitting at the table, she would look at my dad’s face first, waiting for a word of approval or an expression of pleasure. When it didn’t come, she would look at me. When eating with my parents, I was always nervous about my dad’s reactions to mom’s cooking. But when eating tamales I could never hide my joy. I would eat them fast, with my face so close to the plate you would think I was about to kiss it.

It never occurred to me to cook dad tamales for lunch. Pasta was easy, and tamales took hours and left my hands smelling like onions for days. Maybe papá had changed, in his sleepy eyes I no longer saw the young man that had made mami suffer so much. Looking at him, I saw that something in him had switched off, I just didn’t know when.

Afraid that he would be sleeping with his eyes open just like abuelo used to, I looked at him and asked the question that had been burning on my throat since I learned he was being released from prison:

“Do you remember mami’s tamales?”

He stayed silent, and I decided it was time to stand up. As I was picking up the plates, I realized I would never make tamales for him. It was the only thing my mom had left in this world that was only for me.

this story originally appeared in Reservoir Journal

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CalderapicInfluence Question: How did you get started in writing?

Maria Alejandra Barrios: I started writing with some kind of discipline when I was 15 years old.  I read a book called “Opium in the Clouds,” by Rafael Chaparro Madiedo and it got me really into reading and most importantly, into writing. I started writing very romantic stories that I would describe now as magical realism. I started uploading them into MySpace (which was really popular at the time), and people started messaging me and commenting on my stories. It was the first time I felt part of a community and that I felt confident enough to put something I created out in the world. Maybe this was also because I didn’t think about it as much as I think about it. All I cared was about me having fun with it and connecting with others. Looking back I think these stories were a lot about heartbreak. Or what I thought heartbreak was.

Influence Question: How does this particular story fit into your larger body of work?

Maria Alejandra Barrios: In recent years, I started writing more about my hometown(Barranquilla) and my country. When I lived in Colombia, I wrote about the places I dreamt about living in. Now, with some distance, I think I am able to write more about the things that I love about my country but also the things that upset me and that I’m still trying to understand. Relationships between fathers and daughters and the role that fathers have in the society I grew up in is one of those things that I’m still trying to figure out. I think this short story was the first step into me exploring the subject and hopefully having a bigger perspective on it so I can hopefully write a longer story about it in the future.

Influence Question: What are you working on now?

Maria Alejandra Barrios: I’m working on finishing my first short story collection of interlinked immigration stories. I’m working on edits and working on the final story that I hope ties everything together. I also started writing my first novel, which has been a scary process because I consider myself more of a short story writer. However, I have always been attracted to the idea of writing about love, and I think this novel might be a way of exploring that while also keeping the voice-driven first-person narration that I love so much.

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Special thanks to Maria Alejandra Barrios for sharing her thoughts on this story and her work! To find out more about Barrios, check out her site.

Maria Alejandra Barrios is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. She was selected for the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program: Performing & Literary Arts for the city of New York in 2018. He stories have been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Bandit Fiction, Cosmonauts Avenue, La Pluma y La tinta New Voices Anthology and The Out of Many Anthology by Cat in the Sun Press. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review and her fiction is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review and Lost Balloon.  Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center and Caldera Arts Center.

poetry feature: Adeeba Shahid Talukder

This week’s poetry feature comes from the work of Adeeba Shahid Talukder whose chapbook What Is Not Beautiful is out now from Glass Poetry Press. Talukder’s work was featured here once before in 2012 and I continue to be floored by her consistently engaging lyric sensibility.

I actually had the opportunity to get an early read of What Is Not Beautiful and got to share my thoughts on it via the following blurb:

“In poems that weave the lyrical passions and strains of Urdu literary traditions with contemporary nerve and insight, What Is Not Beautiful by Adeeba Shahid Talukder presents a new and necessary voice. This collection invites the reader to follow meditations on family, self, womanhood, and culture rendered with the intimate urgency of the best lyric poetry. In the same way the speaker of one poem “[searches], again for beauty” only to find it “means something / else now,” the readers of Talukder’s poems will find the world around them cast in a new, vivid clarity.”

beautifulFor readers new to Talukder’s work, I would add that the poems of this collection live together in a rich atmosphere of perception. Perceptions of beauty, specifically, are engaged with to gain an idea of as well as to challenge their role in forging a sense of self. Yet, there is also lyric perception at work here, a way with the line that invites the reader into perceiving what is at stake for themselves.

The poem “Mirror” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Starting with an image of the sky “watching” herself in a river, the poem adapts its personification of the sky around a narrative imbued with human resonance. We are, in a way, seeing two narratives at once: the sky’s perception of her seemingly “heavy, wrinkled” self and the speaker’s indirect identification with these images and implied feelings. This braiding of image and emotion is an aspect of Talukder’s work that reads both as spontaneous and natural as well as a feat of craft and intuition. Furthermore, this braiding results in a voice, here and elsewhere in the collection, that is intimate and accessible, yet capable of reading into the nuances and depths of complex perceptions. Despite the narrative’s finality in the ending lines, the poem remains an open-ended experience for both speaker and reader.

Mirror – Adeeba Shahid Talukder

the sky watches the river,
finds herself
heavy, wrinkled.

the furrows in her
as the ship pulls in,

the light on the noses
of the wavelets,

the fitful wind —

each a particle
of her mind in flux.

the fog says: nothing is
as it seems. you

will never know
if you are beautiful.

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Copies of What Is Not Beautiful can be purchased from Glass Poetry Press.
Check out this interview with Talukder to learn more about this collection.

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adeebaAdeeba Shahid Talukder is a Pakistani-American poet and translator. She translates Urdu and Persian poetry, and cannot help but bring elements from these worlds to her own work in English. Her book Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved is a winner of the Kundiman Prize and is forthcoming through Tupelo Press. A Best of the Net finalist and a Pushcart nominee, Talukder’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in AnomalySolsticeMeridianGulf Coast,Washington Square, and PBS Frontline, and elsewhere. Talukder holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and is a Poets House 2017 Emerging Poets Fellow.